THE COVID-19 pandemic has led to around 52,000 (28%) fewer urgent prostate cancer referrals in England alone, according to the latest statistics shared by Prostate Cancer UK.
As a result, it’s estimated that more than 8,600 fewer men started treatment for prostate cancer in 2020 than in the previous year, a reduction of almost one third. The leading men’s health charity warns that this number is set to grow if the drop in referrals is not reversed. Many of these ‘missing men’ could have life-threatening cancer, and unless they are found quickly, they risk being diagnosed too late to be cured.
NHS England data released this week showed that although referral rates were improving towards the end of 2020, they dropped by a further 2,500 in January as the country dealt with a new wave of the pandemic. The overall decline in referrals has largely been attributed to fewer consultations between men and their GP during this time.
Unlike other cancers, early prostate cancer often has no symptoms, so as the UK approaches 12 months since the first lockdown, the charity is asking the public to share its 30-second risk checker to help men understand their risk of the disease and help to find the ‘missing men’ who should have started treatment this last year. Those most at risk are men over 50, black men over 45, and men with a family history of prostate cancer. Anyone experiencing symptoms, such as difficulty when urinating, should speak to a doctor to get checked.
Angela Culhane, Chief Executive at Prostate Cancer UK, said:
“Prostate cancer is the most commonly diagnosed cancer in the UK, but until these missing men are found, and referrals begin to rise, many more men could be diagnosed when it is too late for them to be cured.
“Detecting cancer earlier helps save lives, but sadly prostate cancer doesn’t have a screening programme, and most men with early prostate cancer don’t have any symptoms. That’s why we want men to be informed about their risk, which is higher if you are over 50, black or if your father or brother had the disease.
“You can find out more by taking our online risk checker or speaking to your GP about your risk.”
The charity also warns that some regions have been affected more than others, with the North East, Midlands and London seeing a greater drop in referrals compared to other parts of the country.
Prof Peter Johnson, Clinical Director of the NHS Cancer Programme, said:
“It is often close family who encourage men to go to their GP surgery if they have concerns – and we know that fewer men have seen their GP during the pandemic.
“Prostate cancer, like all cancers, is easier to treat successfully if we can find it early. If men are worried, it is important they get checked, and Prostate Cancer UK’s risk checker is a great way for men to find out more about their risk and what they can do if they’re concerned about prostate cancer.”
Sports broadcaster Tony Jones, 62, is supporting the charity’s call for anyone concerned about prostate cancer:
“I had no discernible symptoms, yet I was diagnosed with prostate cancer in November last year. So to learn now that over 8,600 fewer men started treatment for the disease in 2020 compared to 2019 is really eye-opening. I’m so relieved that I wasn’t put off by all the difficulties and concerns around the COVID-19 restrictions and decided to contact my GP surgery about my risk.”
Tony, who regularly commentates on football matches in the UK for Sky Sports and who lends his voice to fixtures around the globe for Premier League Productions and UEFA, added:
“I underwent surgery last December, returned to work in the commentary box in the new year after a period of recovery, and thankfully I’m doing well. I couldn’t speak more highly of the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital and the care I received, but I can also appreciate that in these COVID times, I was one of the lucky ones.”
There is a history of the disease in my family, and understanding more about the risks from the tools available at Prostate Cancer UK has been an important source of information to me. Unlike for some other cancers, sadly, there’s still no screening procedure for prostate cancer yet, which is even more reason for me to urge anyone who’s unsure about the risk of prostate cancer in their family to invest just 30 seconds in the risk checker or contact their GP surgery. And definitely don’t wait for symptoms.”
Professor Michael Kirby, former GP and editor of Trends in Urology and Men’s Health, said:
“The significant drop in referrals over the past year means thousands of men are likely to be living without a diagnosis of prostate cancer and could be missing out on potentially life-saving treatment.
“That’s why I strongly encourage all men to check their risk of prostate cancer and speak to their GP if their age, ethnicity or family history puts them at higher risk of the disease.”
Prostate Cancer UK has produced a special version of its iconic ‘Man of Men’ logo with a third of the men symbols shaded out to highlight the big drop in men starting treatment for prostate cancer in 2020. This version will be used across the charity’s social channels throughout March.
Help Prostate Cancer UK find the missing men by sharing their easy-to-use online risk checker at prostatecanceruk.org/riskcheck #MenWeAreWithYou.
Anyone with concerns about prostate cancer can also contact Prostate Cancer UK’s Specialist Nurses on weekdays on 0800 074 8383 or online at: www.prostatecanceruk.org.